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The Gospel of Thomas: Annotated & Explained…

The Gospel of Thomas: Annotated & Explained (Skylight Illuminations,)

by Stevan L. Davies

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NOTE - THIS IS A REVIEW OF THE STEVAN L. DAVIES (SKYLIGHT ILLUMINATIONS) ANNOTATED TRANSLATION: The Gospel of Thomas is a gem, and many translations of it are available online. But while Davies' translation seems as adequate as any, it is Davies' commentary that makes this book unique.... and not in a good way. Davies, according to the blurb and reviews, is a professor of religious studies, has studied the Gospel of Thomas for over 20 years, and has a website which is "the world's leading internet resource on the Gospel of Thomas". So I am mystified by the inadequacy and odd bias of many of his commentaries. He seems to take many of the obviously symbolic sayings literally, and interpret others based on some sort of personal agenda. For example: "Jesus said: Why wash the outside of the cup? Don't you know that the one who made the inside also made the outside?" [Saying 89]. It's fairly obvious what this refers to symbolically (the priority of inner wisdom and spirituality over outer embellishment and empty religious gestures). But Davies apparently thinks that it refers to literally washing dishes, and states that "saying 89 may have been spoken sarcastically to say that washing vessels at all is foolish, just as washing the outside and not the inside is foolish." Say what? Two more examples: "When you ate dead things, you made them alive. When you arrive into light, what will you do?" [Saying 11c]. "Jesus said: Wretched is a body depending on a body, and wretched is a soul depending on these two." [Saying 87]. These rather obscure verses appear to have an esoteric meaning, which I hope to study further. But Davies believes they are both admonitions against eating animal flesh: "How does a body depend on a body? By eating it. A human body eats animal bodies for food. Therefore, a soul, we hear, is wretched if it depends on a carnivorous mode of life.... A vegetarian body is not one that depends on a body, so perhaps a soul dependent on it would not be wretched." Never mind the fact that if we are not randomly discarding all the canonical Gospels -- and most Christian Gnostics study both the canonical and the noncanonical Gospels -- Jesus Himself ate fish, hung out with fishermen, and distributed fish along with loaves to the multitudes who came to hear Him speak. I have no problem with Christian vegetarianism or veganism -- and I assume neither did Jesus, considering the possibility that He had spent some time with the Essenes -- but to interpret these two particular verses in that context is certainly stretching things. In a commentary on Saying 53, Davies contends that because Jesus was a Galilean and not a Judean, "A Galilean did not necessarily value the customs or treasure the laws of Judea." In other words, Jesus was not a practicing Jew! Huh? As far as any of the Gospels indicate, Jesus followed all the basic laws of Judaism, *except* when they conflicted with the greater good of compassion (e.g., gathering grain in a field -- or healing the sick -- on Shabbat). These are only a few examples of numerous incomprehensible exegeses of Thomas by Davies. That isn't to say his commentaries are without value -- some of them are very useful and spot-on. But they are marred by the ridiculous and wildly inaccurate ones -- perhaps due to some of Davies' personal biases, perhaps due to his weirdly selective inability to comprehend metaphor. So I've given this particular book three stars -- five for the Gospel itself and the fairly good translation, minus two for Davies' commentary. And I am still seeking a really good in-depth commentary on this important Gnostic Scripture. ( )
  arcanacoelestia | Dec 24, 2013 |
Many consdier this the lost "Q" and possibly a 5th Gospel. ( )
  mr_rhumba | Aug 18, 2006 |
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